A dedicated planning and environment division of the High Court, with specialist judges, was approved by Cabinet on 2 November.
The court will operate in a similar manner to the Commercial Court, and will be established by the Department of Justice in partnership with the Courts Service and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.
Justice Minister Helen McEntee said that, along with reforms to planning legislation, the court would improve case processing and reduce costs, consistent with Ireland’s obligations under EU environmental law.
“Planning and environmental judicial review cases are a notable feature of Ireland’s planning and statutory consenting processes. The ability to deal with these cases efficiently and effectively is critical to the State’s delivery of housing and infrastructure, and in protecting the environment,” she said.
“This new court, once in operation, will provide for greater specialism to enable the more efficient management of cases dealing with planning and environmental matters and judicial review.”
Peter Burke (Minister of State with Responsibility for Local Government and Planning) said that the move was a key commitment of the programme for Government, and would assist in the timely processing of planning litigation.
“Importantly, this aligns with the ongoing consolidation and review of planning legislation, which is being led by the Attorney General and the Department of Housing, and will be a key enabler in the delivery of our ‘Housing for All’ plan,” he said.
The Judicial Planning Working Group (JPWG), set up to determine judicial requirements over the next five years, will also report later this year.
Its recommendations will inform future judicial resourcing – including for the proposed planning and environmental law court.
Primary legislation is needed to allow for the appointment of additional judges, but the actual establishment of the court can go ahead without it.
Zoe Richardson (Fieldfisher planning and environmental partner) said that the announcement was to be welcomed, given the increasing volume of litigation in this very specialised area of law.
"It may be particularly pragmatic, given that key principles of EU environmental law are common to many cases litigated in the area, and a specialist division of the High Court has the potential to bring further consistency of approach and efficient management of cases,” the Fieldfisher lawyer commented.